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Concerning Birth: Fertility Practices and Rebirth Traditions at Tingmosgang’s Avalokiteśvara Shrine


· Melissa Kerin Washington and Lee University (Lexington VA, United States of America)


07/27 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


Safely nested within an amulet box and shielded behind three layers of glass, one can find a white marble, four-armed sculpture known among Ladakhi’s as Thukche Chempo (Thugs rje chen po). Enshrined in the Ladakhi village of Tingmosgang, pilgrims from all over Ladakh come to propitiate this deity for many reasons, but chief among them is to ask the deity to grant the devotee/s children. As my paper will demonstrate, this c. seventeenth-century Buddhist shrine has been folded into little-known fertility practices among Ladakhi Buddhists. In fact, Tingmosgang’s Thukche Chempo shrine is grouped within a network of Buddhist shrines known to help women conceive. Of these, Tingmosgang is understood to be the most powerful, which is due partly to its status as a rang-chung (rang byung) or self-manifesting sculpture. Given this shrine’s powers to help women conceive, as well as to help devotees with a number of other concerns, there is a high incidence of reincarnation among Tingmosgang villagers. “We want to return to the soil where Thukche Chempo lives” explains one villager. This paper—drawing from ethnographic accounts, art historical analysis, and textual information—documents and investigates the little-known history of the Thukche Chempo shrine and the current reception and propitiation of it among villagers of Tingmosgang and beyond. In so doing, it seems this shrine may be much more than a nexus between divinity and devotee; it may instead be understood as an active agent directly affecting conception and rebirth among Ladakhi Buddhist communities.